The Play’s the Thing This Week

My previous blog post got lots of traffic when I strayed from my usual focus on novels to talk about poetry. Now I’m going to diverge again by discussing plays.


As with poetry, I’m not an expert on plays, but have read and seen a number of them. Which is one appealing aspect of plays — you can enjoy them via the written word alone, or watch those words acted out by hopefully great performers collaborating in the social environment of a hopefully full theater.

Actually, at least some plays are taken from the words of novels and other kinds of previously published fiction. For instance, this April I enjoyed an excellent production of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Millburn, NJ’s Paper Mill Playhouse, a regional theater that’s near-Broadway caliber. And then there’s community theater — I just saw a wonderful version of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat at The Studio Playhouse in my hometown of Montclair, NJ.

Montclair used to have several playhouses, and one highlight at a now-relocated venue was a 2007 production of Arthur Miller’s iconic Death of a Salesman with an all-black cast. Frankie Faison was riveting as Willy Loman.

I’ve also seen Miller’s A View From the Bridge and read All My Sons, The Crucible, and The Price — intensely compelling, all.

Back in my post-college single days of the late 1970s and early ’80s, I enjoyed a ton of Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows (“The Price” was usually low then). One memorable experience was seeing a play called Rat’s Nest that featured an acting turn by Bobby “Boris” Pickett of “Monster Mash” song fame. (Bobby’s band was Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, if you need to know.  🙂 ) I also recall a very nice performance of Oscar Wilde’s droll/witty The Importance of Being Earnest.

Once in a while during those years I cobbled together enough money to take in a Broadway play — including Martin Sherman’s Bent (starring Richard Gere), William Hoffman’s As Is, Paul Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven, and August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Much later, a decade or so ago, I also saw a revival of Wilson’s magnificent Two Trains Running as well as the haunting The Light in the Piazza, based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novella, starring Kelli O’Hara and Victoria Clark.

Returning to the early ’80s again, I was in the audience for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. What a thrill to attend that one-woman show and see the legendary singer and actress whose career was hindered by blatant racism. I won the tickets as a door prize at some New York City event I can’t even remember.

Other plays I’ve enjoyed on the stage or page include Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others, Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, Moliere’s Tartuffe, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, etc. And of course Hamlet, Macbeth, and a few other classics by Shakespeare.

Oh, I should mention that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the aforementioned monster hit Hamilton.

Tragedies, comedies, or fare that’s in-between. Musicals or straight dramas. What are your favorite plays? Your most memorable theater experiences? What do you think of plays as a genre?

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I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.